EL PASO, Texas – The UTEP softball team will continue Conference USA play, as it will make its first ever trip to Murfreesboro to take on Middle Tennessee April 16-17. Saturday’s doubleheader will start at 1 p.m. MT/2 CT, while the series finale will begin at 11 a.m. MT/Noon CT.
The Miners (17-23, 8-4 C-USA) are coming off a bye week, while the Blue Raiders (22-19, 5-7 C-USA) are coming off a couple nonconference wins. The weekend series will be the first of four remaining league sets. UTEP will host UAB (April 23-24) and North Texas (April 30-May 1) in back-to-back weekends, while closing out the regular season at Southern Miss (May 7-8).
Best Start in League Play
UTEP is 8-4 and is in sole possession of first place in the Conference USA West Division. UTEP’s previous best starts were 5-4 marks to open league play in 2010 and 2015. After falling at Marshall (March 12-13) in a three-game set to open conference action, the Miners won eight consecutive conference games, a program record.
The team is 8-1 in its last nine league contests. No. 24 Florida Atlantic is 10-2 in conference play and sits atop the East Division.
More on UTEP’s League Start
The Miners have a chance of finishing with a winning conference record for the first time in school history with 12 C-USA contests remaining. The 2010 squad finished with the best conference record in school history with an 11-13 mark.
The 2010 season was also the last time the program competed in the C-USA Tournament. Since the arrival of Tobin Echo-Hawk, UTEP is 26-34 in C-USA in three seasons after a dismal 6-64-1 mark the previous three campaigns.
A Look at C-USA
No. 24 Florida Atlantic (10-2 East Division) has the no. 1 overall seed at this point in the season, while UTEP (8-4 West) is no. 2. UAB (7-5 West) and UTSA (8-7 West) have the next best records, while Marshall (6-6 East), WKU (6-6 East), FIU (7-8 East) and Southern Miss (7-8 West) round out the tournament seeds.
The top three teams from each division and two wildcard teams from either division will advance to the conference tournament on May 11-14 in Denton, Texas (North Texas).
Scouting Middle Tennessee
The Blue Raiders are 22-19 overall after a pair of wins this weekend against Austin Peay 3-2 on April 12 and an 11-6 victory over Belmont on Wednesday. MTSU, however, is coming off a series loss at WKU. MTSU and WKU split on April 9, while WKU won the series on Sunday during a 5-4 triumph. The Blue Raiders are hitting .269 with 17 home runs and 199 runs (ranks third in Conference USA).
Kirstyn Cuccia leads the way with a .372 batting average with a home run and 25 RBI. Dani Munoz and Austyn Whaley are tied for the team-lead in RBI (27), while Munoz has a team-best seven home runs. Precious Birdsong is hitting .317 and ranks third in C-USA with 28 stolen bags. Middle Tennessee’s ERA (3.50) is ranked fifth in the league, as Kelci Cheney (14-10) leads the staff in wins, innings (160.0) and Ks (84).
All-Time Series vs. Middle Tennessee
UTEP leads the all-time series 6-0. The Miners will make their first trip to Murfreesboro, as each of the first two series was played in El Paso. UTEP swept MTSU, April 12-13, 2014, in the team’s first ever series. The Miners completed another sweep March 7-8 of last season.
Last Series (UTEP 3, MTSU 0)
The Miners hit .360 with six long balls, while outscoring the Blue Raiders 26-6 in a three-game sweep on March 7-8, 2015 in El Paso. UTEP won game one 7-0, game two 7-4 and game three 12-2 (five innings).Kawehiokalani Netane hit .625 (5-of-8) with a pair of home runs, five runs and seven RBI.
Kiki Pepi andKaitlin Ryder each connected on a home run. In the circle, Kaitlin Fifield went 2-0, with a save, while fashioning a 0.00 ERA in three appearances, including one start. Fifield threw 10.2 innings, allowing no runs, walking four and fanning 10. Danielle Pearson picked up a win as well, throwing 8.1 frames in a pair of starts.
Winning on the Road
After a dismal 0-19 road record in 2015, UTEP has won four games outside El Paso in 2016 thus far. After a pair of losses at NM State earlier in the season, the Miners ended a 21-game road-losing streak at UNLV on Feb. 19 – a 6-0 victory. The Orange and Blue also completed its second-ever road sweep of a conference opponent at FIU on March 25-26.
UTEP’s 2-1 game one victory also ended a 15-game conference road-losing streak. The Miners went 0-12 on the road in league games last year, while starting 0-3 this season after a sweep at Marshall on March 12-13.
The bats have been a strong point, as UTEP is tied first with Southern Miss in Conference USA with 55 doubles, and ranks second in total bases (492). The Miners rank third in batting (.314) and hits (329), second in slugging (.469), rank sixth in runs (187) and tied fourth in RBI (163). UTEP ranks tied third with North Texas in home runs (34).
LA Tech leads the way with 42 dingers. The Miners blasted five home runs against Incarnate Word on Feb. 11, tied most with LA Tech in C-USA in a single game this season. The Miner batters have been hit 25 times, ranking fourth in C-USA.
Crossing the Dish
UTEP is averaging 4.7 runs per game, the most since Tobin Echo-Hawk took over the program, and the most since 2010 (4.8 runs per game). If the Miners keep this pace, they will score around 249 runs in 2016, which would be seventh most all-time. The 2010 team scored 252 runs.
In Echo-Hawk’s first season, the team scored 231, following with 224 last season. The 2007 squad scored 306 runs, the most in school annals.
Grinding out Doubles
UTEP is tied with Southern Miss in doubles (55). The Miners have three players in the top 10 in Conference USA in doubles, as Courtney Clayton (14) leads the way; Taylor Sargent (11) is tied fourth with Southern Miss’ Tori Dew and Kiki Pepi (nine) is tied with three other players for ninth. The Miners are on pace for around 73 doubles, which would be the fourth most in program history. The 2008 team tallied 87 doubles, most all-time.
Connecting on Knocks
UTEP is averaging 8.2 hits per game. If the Miners keep this pace, they will have connected on 436 hits in 2016, which would rank no. 2 all-time behind the 2009 team (442 hits.).
Potent Offense in League Play
UTEP is hitting .347 in 12 league games – best in Conference USA. The Miners also rank first in doubles (23), slugging (.529), on-base percentage (.391), total bases (180) and RBI (62), while ranking second in hits (118). UTEP ranks tied second with UTSA in runs (67) and ranks third in home runs (13).
UTEP has committed 41 errors during the first 40 games in 2016, 12 less than last season at this time. If the Miners keep this pace, they will have committed around 53 errors, which would be the least in program history. The 2007 defense committed only 59 in 2007. The fielding has improved, somewhat, during the last few seasons.
In 2012, UTEP committed 86 errors, while in 2013, 81 miscues were scored. Since Tobin Echo-Hawk and Cristina Cobb-Adams – both infielders in college – arrived to the Sun City, the Miners committed 69 in 2014 and 73 last season. North Texas (23) has committed the least amount of miscues in 2016.
The Miners rank second in Conference USA with 18 double plays turned. UCLA leads the nation with 28 double plays turned, while Middle Tennessee leads the league with 20. On March 13, UTEP tied a program record by turning a trio of double plays at Marshall.
The feat as been achieved three other times – the last time being Feb. 13, 2005 against North Texas. Last season, UTEP tied a program record with the 2007 team by registering 21 double plays. The Miners are on pace for about 24 double plays, which would rank no. 1 in school history. The Conference USA record is 32, by the 2009 UCF squad. FIU led the league in 2015 (24 DPs).
Born to Assist
The UTEP defense has shown considerable improvement, as it ranks third in Conference USA with 370 assists. UTSA leads the league in assists (375), while Middle Tennessee ranks second (373). The Miners are on pace for around 490 assists, which would be the most in school history. The 2015 squad recorded 489, while the 2009 team registered 488.
Leadoff hitter Courtney Clayton has had a sensational sophomore campaign thus far. Clayton is one of three Conference USA hitters with an average over .400. The Cornelius, Ore., native is ranked third with a .409 batting average.
Clayton leads the league with 14 doubles, while ranking third in hits (56), second in total bases (87), tied sixth in runs (33), fifth in slugging (.635) and tied ninth in RBI (28). Clayton has only struck out eight times in 137 at bats, as she ranks seventh in C-USA and 136 nationally in toughest to strikeout. Clayton’s .468 (22-for-47) in league only games in ranked fourth in C-USA.
Courtney Clayton is ranked no. 1 in Conference USA with 14 doubles. Her 0.35 doubles per game also ranks first in conference and 31st nationally. Camilla Carrera holds the school standard with 19 doubles in 2009.Ashley Eldridge (2014), Chelsea Troupe (2009) and Ashley Bennett (2005) each tallied 17 – second best in school history.
Clayton set her career high with two doubles against Grand Canyon on Feb. 21 and has accomplished the feat two more times (at Marshall on March 12; vs. New Mexico on March 15). East Carolina’s Kate Manuse holds the C-USA single-season record with 26 in 2004.
Clayton’s Career Average
Currently, Courtney Clayton’s career batting average is .352 (107-for-304) and ranked no. 4 on the all-time hitting list. Camilla Carrera is the all-time leader (.401 avg.), while Chelsea Troupe (.384) and Erika Arcuri(.357) round out the list. Clayton is 30 hits and three doubles from cracking the all-time list in each respective category. Clayton’s .556-career slugging is also ranked fourth all-time.
Kiki Pepi has been stellar at the plate since arriving to UTEP. The San Diego, Calif., native is tied no. 2 with three other players in Conference USA with 36 RBI, behind LA Tech’s Briana Daiss (42 RBI). Pepi ranked third on the team in hitting (.315) and ranks second in home runs (six).
Pepi has contributed with 40 hits, 16 runs, nine doubles and a triple. After a 2-for-17 slump (March 4-12), Pepi is hitting .321 (18-for-56) with 14 RBI and a pair of home runs in her last 17 games (March 12-April 5). And after not recording an RBI in six straight contests (March 6-15), Pepi has tallied 14 RBI during the last 13 contests (March 19-April 5).
Vacuuming at Third Base
Kiki Pepi’s glove has been a Hoover at third base in 2016. The junior set a school record with nine assists at FIU in game one on March 25. The previous record was seven assists; accomplished seven times by six players. Pepi currently ranks fourth in Conference USA with 93 assists and is on pace for around 123, which would be a program record.
Pepi’s assists are also a game high in C-USA this season, and tied with seven other players for third-most nationally. Stacie Townsend holds the program single-season record with 114 in 2009.
Sophomore Taylor Sargent’s bat has made a dramatic improvement after hitting .232 in 2015. The native of Albuquerque, N.M., has been drilling doubles, ranking tied fourth in Conference USA with 11. Sargent ranks third on the team in hitting (.328), while connecting on two home runs with 16 RBI and 18 runs scored.
Defensively, Sargent has played first base and right field, pretty much splitting time between the two positions. She ranks second on the team in putouts (139). Sargent also recorded UTEP’s longest hitting streak of 2016, with nine games. Sargent hit .414 (12-for-29) during the streak (March 12-21) with five RBI, five doubles and five runs. She is currently on a seven-game hitting streak (March 25-April 5), batting .375 (9-for-24) during that span.
More from Moreno
Hope Moreno has seen more playing time as of late, while providing solid fielding and hitting. During her last 14 games (March 15-April 5), the sophomore is hitting .488 (20-for-41) with eight RBI, seven runs, four doubles and a pair of home runs. Her three-run bomb put the Miners up 9-2 in game two against UTSA on April 2.
Moreno also connected on a clutch two-run jack at FIU on March 26 that gave her squad a 6-3 lead. Moreno also recorded 13 putouts in back-to-back games on March 25, while recording 10 more the next day. The previous nine games (Feb. 26-March 12), Moreno hit .238 (5-for-21). Moreno leads the Miners with a .484 batting average (15-for-31) in league only games and is ranked third in Conference USA in that category.
The Ryd Stuff
Kaitlin Ryder has made a dramatic improvement in the batter’s box in 2016. After hitting .241 last season, the sophomore ranks second on the team in batting (.345), while leading in on-base percentage (.446). Ryder also has three home runs, 19 RBI, ranks second on the team in runs (24), while digging out four doubles and a triple.
Ryder has also shown patience at the plate, walking a team-high 20 times (ranks seventh in Conference USA).
Kawehi’s Bat Coming Alive
Senior outfielder Kawehiokalani Netane struggled the first part of the season. Netane hit .224 (11-for-49) with only one home run and four RBI in 20 games (Feb. 11-March 5). The last 20 contests, Netane is hitting .320 (16-for-50) with six jacks, 15 RBI and 11 runs scored. She also registered a career-high two home runs and six RBI against Mount St. Mary’s on March 5 to begin the 20-game stretch.
Shutouts in the Circle
UTEP pitchers Kaitlin Ffield and Danielle Pearson have combined for three shutouts in 2016. It’s the most goose eggs since the 2010 squad tallied nine of them. Danielle Pearson pitched the first shutout of 2016 and the first of her career during a 6-0 win at UNLV on Feb. 19. Kaitlin Fifield followed with the second shutout of the season with a no-hit effort during a 2-0 victory over Texas A&M-C.C. on Feb. 27. Pearson then pitched her second and third team shutout during an 8-0 run-rule win over LA Tech on March 20.
Fifield Cracks the Win’s List
After winning a contest against UTSA on April 2, junior hurler Kaitlin Fifield won career-game no. 17 and moved to no. 5 on the all-time win’s list in program history with Colleen Hohman and Megan Barber.Nichole Tunget is ranked no. 4 with 18 triumphs.
4 Wins in 4 Starts for Pearson
Danielle Pearson had won four consecutive starts for the first time in her career, after notching victories against LA Tech on March 19 and 20, and picking up wins at FIU (March 25) and against UTSA (April 2). Pearson was part of a no-decision against UTSA on April 3.